Alabama judicial nominee who never tried a case is also married to Trump administration lawyer
By Kristine Phillips
Brett Talley, the young lawyer nominated by President Donald Trump for a lifetime federal judgeship in Alabama, was asked by a Senate committee to disclose family members who are likely to present potential conflicts of interest if he is confirmed.
In response, Talley said he would evaluate "real or potential conflict, or relationships that could give rise to appearance of conflict" and recuse himself from cases if necessary, according to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.
He did not, however, identify any family members – including his wife, who is one of Trump’s attorneys. Annie Donaldson is White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II’s chief of staff.
Talley’s failure to mention his wife in the 30-page written questionnaire was first reported Monday by the New York Times.
Talley could not be immediately reached for comment.
The White House did not respond to questions about whether the administration sees a potential conflict of interest, and whether Talley should have disclosed that he is married to a White House attorney.
A spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee and its chair, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, did not respond to a call seeking comment.
As a district judge, Talley could end up presiding over cases in which the federal government or the White House is one of the parties. For example, district judges in Hawaii and Maryland had previously heard cases challenging the Trump administration’s travel ban.
Talley attracted controversy for what some say is his limited experience in practicing law and the level of partisanship he had shown in the past. The Judiciary Committee, on which Republicans outnumber Democrats, approved Talley’s nomination last week on a party-line vote.
His nomination is now headed to the Senate for a full confirmation vote.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the Senate should not confirm Talley in light of the new revelation.
"By failing to disclose that his wife is one of President Trump’s lawyers, Talley has betrayed his obligation to be open and transparent with the Senate and American people," Feinstein said in a statement, adding later: "Talley’s nomination shouldn’t be considered by the Senate unless he answers questions about this glaring omission that clarifies matters concerning when he would recuse himself."
Feinstein said reports that Donaldson has been interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as it investigates Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election show "a clear conflict of interest that should have been disclosed." The Times reported that Mueller’s team recently talked to Donaldson about her notes on conversations with McGahn regarding the firing of former FBI director James Comey.
Feinstein and other Democrats on the committee have opposed Talley’s nomination, citing his lack of trial experience and political comments he previously made on social media, on his political blog and in several opinion pieces he had written for CNN. The American Bar Association, which vets federal judicial nominees, has rated Talley as "not qualified."
Talley, a 36-year-old lawyer from Alabama who also writes horror stories on the side, has practiced law for only three years and has yet to try a case.
Before his nomination in September, he had been unequivocal about his political views. For example, one tweet from his account, which has since been made private, says, "Hillary Rotten Clinton might be the best Trumpism yet."
On his political blog called Government in Exile, he wrote a post with the title, "A Call to Arms: It’s Time to Join the National Rifle Association," in January 2013, a month after a gunman in Newtown, Conn., killed 27 people before taking his own life. He criticized gun-control advocates, who, he said, "have exploited" the Newtown mass shooting to advance an agenda to strip people of their Second Amendment rights.
Answering written questions from Democrats on the Judiciary Committee about his previous political statements, Talley said he would recuse himself in cases in which his impartiality is questioned, as required by federal statute, and that his personal views on the Second Amendment and other issues "will have no bearing on how I would rule in a case." He also said the blog post calling on people to join the NRA was meant to attract opposing views and encourage constructive discussion.
Challenged about his lack of trial experience, Talley said he had previously argued motions in federal district court on behalf of the state of Alabama, often through written briefs rather than in person. He also said he had argued cases before the 11th Circuit appeals court and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. He said it would be "inappropriate" for him to comment on his recommendation for the federal bench – a decision made by two U.S. senators from Alabama, Richard Shelby and Luther Strange.
Talley graduated from Harvard Law School in 2007. Shortly after, he became a law clerk in Alabama, spending two years in a federal-district court and another two at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. He worked as a political speechwriter for three years, first for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 and then for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, from 2013 to 2015.
In April 2015, Talley became an Alabama deputy solicitor general, a position he held for nearly two years until he became deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department in January.
In a statement defending Talley’s nomination, Grassley said he does not believe "extensive trial experience" is the only factor in deciding on a nominee’s qualifications.
"Mr. Talley has a wide breadth of various legal experience that has helped to expose him to different aspects of federal law and the issues that would come before him," Grassley said.
Talley’s nomination comes as Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., continue to intensify efforts to place conservative jurists on the federal bench.
Talley and Donaldson were married in August 2015.
Donaldson was an associate for the Washington law firm Jones Day before she was appointed to the White House post. She is one of several lawyers from the firm who were tapped to join the Trump administration, some as attorneys for the White House, including McGahn.
Among the others: Greg Katsas, James Burnham and David Morrell, who now work in the Office of the White House Counsel.
Katsas, Trump’s deputy counsel, is also a judicial nominee. The Senate last week approved Katsas’ nomination to an appellate court in Washington.
U.S. Senator Luther Strange on Monday issued a statement of support for Talley.
"Confirming Brett Talley as district judge will mark only the latest chapter in his distinguished career of public service," Strange stated. "As my Deputy Solicitor General in Alabama, he applied his reverence for the Constitution and the rule of law to crucial cases, arguing multiple times before 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and building a reputation for professionalism. Brett Talley’s record reflects a nominee well-equipped to serve on the federal bench, and he has my full confidence and endorsement."
Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, told AL.com that he believes the biggest issue now is that Talley didn’t tell the judiciary committee about his wife’s position.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who had defended Talley’s lack of courtroom, may have a problem with Talley not telling the committee about his wife, Tobias said. "He feels strongly that people give full information … otherwise the committee can’t operate if it doesn’t have full information," Tobias said.
Talley has not had much courtroom experience either as a lawyer or a judge, such as ruling on evidence, making sure all the procedures are followed, and making sure everybody has a fair day in court, Tobias said. "That’s not something you can learn on the job," he said.
AL.com reporter Kent Faulk contributed to this report
via Real-Time News from AL.com http://bit.ly/2zzWl2c
November 13, 2017 at 04:04PM